Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Becoming Known - Part 4

Have you ever felt like you started something, and somewhere along the way it took a turn you weren’t expecting, hadn’t planned for, and couldn’t stop from happening?

I feel like that almost every day...when I fix my hair.

Seriously, if my hair could talk, it would tell me daily: “Sorry. I realize this isn’t what you envisioned, but this is what I’m doing today. So…”

I think anyone who is a creator of anything has felt like that. A painting has a plan and vision in the mind of the artist, but it often ends up looking very different by the time he signs his name to the canvas.

A song starts out as just a melody and a few words, and even though the songwriter thinks she knows where she’s headed, it ends up being surprisingly altered once its complete.

I’ve personally witnessed a potter begin forming a piece on a wheel, and then, either from an accidental slip of the hand, or from something not quite right within the lump of clay itself, a change happened in the piece. “It was going to be a bowl, but it’s actually turning into a vase, I think.” I’ve also seen potters decide that the direction they were heading wasn’t salvageable, and so they smashed the partially formed piece of art/tableware, and started over.

I’ve done that SO MANY times in the years I’ve been writing. Either started and then decided it wasn’t salvageable, or started and ended up somewhere totally different than I planned.

A few weeks ago when Jamilla and I began a series, sparked from a revelation I had in my heart, we had a pretty clear idea of where we thought we were heading.

We talked, cried, laughed, rejoiced, and wrote our hearts. Parts 1 and 2 were shared…and then we waited.

“What else?” we kept asking each other and the Lord. “There’s more. What is it?”

And then…then she got new revelation, new words from the Lord, and she texted me in a flurry. And the same way that my first revelation sparked words and thoughts and feelings in her, her new revelation set off something in me.

She wrote about identity. About moving ahead while setting behind the things that had shaped her past. About stepping forward, with her eyes on whom she had been created to be, not on who the world had told her she was or conditioned her to be.

She’s so brave, my friend. Always willing to pull out and examine and share her scars and her journey, in order to exhort others toward something new, something more. Then she asked me what I would write about next.

“I need to marinate,” I responded.

And I did. And the Potter went to work.

He has been adding water to this lump that is ME for a few weeks now, softening me and getting me ready for proper molding…but I’ve been ignoring the direction He was taking me.

“It’s funny that you think that will do any good,” my friends said to me.

But like my hair does to me on any given day, I simply looked at the path being asked of me, and said, “Actually…I’m not really feeling like doing that.”

And the Lord just continued to mold, and shape, and pour on water for softening.

I FEEL like He’s smashed me back into a blob, to start over from scratch.

He wants me to do something. He wants me to walk His path for my life, rather than mine. And I don’t want to do it.

I don’t want to be brave. I want to be safe. I want to decide the shape I will be made into.

Except that He is spinning the wheel, not me. And His hands are doing the forming, not mine. And, unlike me, He has never been confused about what He is making me into. His plan, His creative design, has never changed. Only my understanding of it.

What began as my revelation of a bridge to understanding God’s heart for racial reconciliation…has come to a moment of clarity on another piece of God’s heart.

His plan for me…as His ambassador. As a reflector of His heart.

Jamilla assures me it’s safe to set aside what’s holding me back. She tells me God is changing her to understand His heart better, and because she’s brave, she’s saying “okay.” And she’s letting Him move her in a new direction than she thought she was heading.

I’m not brave. I’m brutally aware of my stubbornness. I don’t want to become a vase. I want to be a bowl.

But the Potter never planned for me to be a bowl. He always saw a vase when He looked at me. Even when He was speaking to my heart, giving me a glimpse into understanding the struggle of my friend’s life as a minority, He always knew that it was only one piece of what He was doing.

His revelation to me, when shared with my friend, was like a mirror to her heart, and she saw a reflection of God, and it soothed hurts in her.

And then the Potter began shaping something in her…and when she shared it with me, it was like a mirror for me, showing me a reflection of God…

…and I suddenly see the vase He wants me to be.

And, while weeping and shaking and scaring my kids with my emotions, I find that there are only a few words I can say out loud. Because where He is taking my heart is too terrifying to fully contemplate now.

“Your will, Lord. Your plan. I see it. I choose it.”

If this was His plan for me, for this day, what in the world might He want to do next?

What reflection of His heart will He show me next? And how can I look away?

I can’t. He’s the Potter. And His heart is more, so much more, than I can understand. And I want to be brave enough to say: “This is what God is doing in me” so that others can hear what God is saying to them through it.

We will say more words, she and I, and hold mirrors up for each other on this racial reconciliation issue, and the Lord will keep shaping us both, and hopefully others.

But here’s my takeaway from today…

Her heart is covered in blood red, and it bears a striking resemblance to a sacrificial love. And mine is the same. Because we both are called to resemble our Savior. And when I forget that, she reminds me. And when she forgets, I remind her.

We are sisters. And we are clay. And we are mirrors. And we are bearers of the image of the Almighty Potter.

And that’s enough to make me brave. Because I’m known, and I’m understood, and I’m loved, and I’m accepted.

And His heart is the same for you. Do you see, in the mirror, what He’s making you?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Becoming Known: In Black and White - Part 1

Have you ever had a moment of absolute, overwhelming realization that reached to the very core of your being, and left you reeling and shaken and all-but-unable to verbally explain it?

I had one of those this morning.

And it's too exciting not to share.

But its still all jumbled up, barely sorted, in my mind, and it's a crap ton to try and process with words. I keep shaking my head, trying to get it all to settled down and become orderly and succinct.

It's way more than one blog.

And it's way too many words for me to say them all myself.

So I won't try and say it all at once, or all by myself.

This is the beginning.

This is the story that led me to this trembling, tearful, teeth-jarring morning.

I've always been a person who wants to understand the WHY of a given situation. If there was a math problem, and I was taught how to arrive at the solution, that was great, but I always wanted to know why it had to be just that way. Knowing that 4 + 1 =  5 is a memorized fact. Understanding that when my mom had my baby sister, we went from being 4 kids to being 5 kids...that resonated on a whole other level.

Because of that particular quirk about me, I have always tried hard to use examples when I teach my children, especially if it is a concept that they CLEARLY are struggling to grasp. Fractions, for instance. Do you have any idea how much easier it is to explain 2/4 being equal to 1/2 if you cut up an apple or a king sized Snickers bar? (I always use apples. Never candy bars.)(<---that is a lie.)

I want them to understand. Not just know that a certain thing is a certain way...I want them to SEE WHY, and really get it.

And I think God is that way with us too. I've been a student of the Bible for many years, and one thing is penned over and over, with such singular focus that I cannot possibly misunderstand: He has always had a plan, from the beginning, for every moment and step and event and crisis and triumph and fear and question and struggle and blessing and detour and failure...and He wants us to see His plan, and understand it, and live it.

He saw my whole life, from before the foundation of the world. I can almost imagine Him smiling indulgently as He looked at the length of my days, and I can see Him carefully orchestrating every person and event and defining moment. He has always had a plan.

Sometimes, a LOT of times, I don't see His hand clearly. But sometimes, like today, I become so physically AWARE of His hand in my life that I literally cannot stop laughing and crying.

I've been wrestling with a problem, you see, for quite some time, and 4 + 1 = 5 is not an acceptable solution to this problem. I need to understand it...REALLY understand.

A conversation about cultural and racial diversity within churches is what sparked this internal wrestling match. And it led to much deeper grappling in my heart. For a long time, MONTHS, I've been asking myself "Why? Why is this such a hard thing? Why is it such a polarizing topic? Why so much anger? Why so much ugliness? Why, even within the church where we are SUPPOSED to be living the truth and love of God our Creator, and embracing the beauty of the diverse world He made, do my friends still feel unsure?"

I wanted to understand. But I didn't. I KNEW how my friend felt. I had asked her. We had conversations. Because I wanted to know. But KNOWING wasn't understanding, it wasn't resonating with WHY being a minority in America is so challenging.

You can ask her, I've been beating this drum for many, many text conversations. Because I cannot let something lie until it makes SENSE. Until I cut up and consume my 2/4 of the candy bar ( I cannot really see that I have eaten half of it.

I've been praying, and asking the Lord for relief from this yearning inside me, or for some clarity...


And then, this morning...this morning I got a glimpse.

During a text convo where I was once again beating that drum of "explain that statement to me, please," my friend said to me that it felt like there was an inability to be "herself" sometimes. Like all of what made her HER wasn't a discussable topic.

I literally gasped out loud.

 I've felt that way. In fact, I had JUST been talking to another friend about that very feeling not 3 days ago.

When my sister, Joy, died 6 1/2 years ago, the person that I was before...she died too. That person, that 29 year old me, didn't know what it felt like to hold her mom's hair while she threw up, or write an obituary that explained the life of an amazing missionary who died tragically but was my cute and shy kid sister before she was any of the rest. The old me had never had to unpack a suitcase full of clothes that still smelled like the sister who was gone, or hold an urn in her hands that were the remains of that sister, or bury that urn, or be unable to eat for so many days that she was no longer able to breastfeed her child, or wake from nightmares about the death of her sister, wailing so loud it woke her heart was shattered, never, ever to look the same again.

And for a while, I was able to talk about it, sometimes, to some people. But for the most part, as I went about the things that were still required of me, I felt like I was hiding part of who I now was from the world. Because if I brought that out...if someone asked me "How are you?" and I told them how I really would make them uncomfortable. They would look away, or shift back and forth from foot to foot, or try and change the subject, or make a joke to get me to smile, or SOMETHING.

It is a lonely feeling, being in a room full of people and knowing that they don't truly understand half of what makes you YOU, and they are blissful in their lack of understanding. I can talk all day long about a million topics with people...but I'm still only partially KNOWN, because my scarred, mosaic heart isn't a topic that anyone wants to discuss.

Probably their intentions are good. They don't want to make me sad, or uncomfortable, or draw attention to something I may not want to talk about...but losing my sister is part of my story, its relevant to every prayer I pray, every song I sing, every decision I make.

Sometimes I even think, as I talk to my daughter-with-the-heart-of-a-missionary, that God gave me Joy as a sister to prepare me to have Faith as a kid. It's all intertwined into my very being, you see. A dead sister, my grief that will always be with me, my daughter who wants to follow her aunt's footsteps, my pride and terror about that...they aren't things that happened. They are part of ME.

I started to cry, and I blabbered a bunch of words with my fingers, because I suddenly felt like I understood a little bit. And when I explained what I was thinking, I ended with, "Is that kind of what you're saying?" And she said one word.


And then I cried harder.

God saw what my heart would want to understand, and so YEARS before, He strategically placed a friend in my life who I could ask questions of. And also, He used an example, from my own life, of what it felt like to be in an emotional minority.

How can He be so big? And so good? And care so much about all of the things that we care about?

When I thought all along that Jamilla and I became friends because she thought I was funny and I thought she was funny and we had the same sarcastic tick in our faces...all along, it was for more.

He continues to waste nothing in my grief journey. I knew He was doing it, I just never knew He could do it quite like this.

Today, I am left rattled and breathless by all the things I see differently. And there's more. More to share. More to learn. More to understand.

But for now...for now, take a minute. Ask yourself what thing is burning in your heart, longing to be understood.

CAN IT BE that the Lord is standing there, patiently, waiting to reveal that He has set understanding in motion for you, from before your first breath? And that somehow, He is going to use all the things in your life for His glory, for His fame, for His plan, so that you can better understand the hearts of the people around you? Can we realize that as we learn to really KNOW each other, the heart of our Father will be better known?

I have one word for you.